Government in the 1980s

Contemporary Context:

In many ways, the 1980s are best described by the list of events which didn't happen:

  1. No nation bigger than Belize achieved it's independence, breaking a trend which had been running since the Chinese Revolution of 1911. [n.1]
  2. All the monarchies of the world survived the decade intact for the first time in seven decades.
  3. Despite all the saber rattling from both sides of the Cold War, there were no significant changes in the map of Communism and the alignment of allies in the 9½ years preceding 1 July 1989.
  4. It was the first decade in five without a Arab-Israeli War, and the first in three without an Indo-Pakistani War, owing largely to the fact that Israel and India had acquired nuclear weapons in the 1970s.
  5. There were no (okay, very few) major outbreaks of either war or peace during the 80s. Of the 15 bloodiest wars of the 1980s, 11 span the entire decade. [n.2] They were chronic conflicts that seemed to burn without beginning or end, already ignited by New Year's Eve, 1979, and still going strong New Year's Day, 1990. Only the Iran-Iraq War was entirely contained within the decade.

The 1980s, however, were a decade of growing freedom in the Third World. In South America, the number of military governments drastically dropped off -- from 7 in 1982 to 2 five years later. Along the Pacific Rim of Asia, the pendulum was also swinging back toward democracy as local economies boomed. Meanwhile, pragmatic, reformist regimes had come to power in the Soviet Union and China and were gradually dismantling the Communist state. Then, in the final few months of the decade, the avalanche hit, and the Communists surrendered power throughout eastern Europe.



New countries of the 1980s: Antigua, Belize, Brunei, St. Kitts, Tuvalu, Vanautu

Total area set free: less than West Virginia



Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Colombia, East Timor, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Lebanon, Mozambique and the Phillipines. The exceptions are Uganda, the Sudan, Liberia and Iran-Iraq.


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Last updated February 2000

Copyright © 1998-2000 Matthew White